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Owens, legislators call for Churchill’s head

CU regent meeting heats up over Ward Churchill affair

By Leigh E. Rich

Tenure or no, Ward Churchill has to go.

So said Gov. Bill Owens in a press conference Wednesday, commenting on the most recent University of Colorado scandal after signing the 65th General Assembly’s first bill into law.

The pride with which Owens signed House Bill 1086, restoring Medicaid benefits to the state’s legal immigrants, dissipated into obvious disapproval as he issued a statement about the Churchill affair.

He related it to “a carton of spoiled milk: Every time you open it, it smells worse.”

Churchill, who resigned as chair of CU’s department of ethnic studies Monday, recently garnered national attention after a paper written in 2001 questioning the innocence of the Sept. 11 victims resurfaced. Hamilton College’s student newspaper quoted excerpts from Churchill’s “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens” this Jan. 21, two weeks before Churchill was supposed to speak at the Clinton, N.Y. college and sparking the nationwide hoopla.

In his article “Some People Push Back,” expanded and published as a full-length book in November 2003, Churchill said the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks did not “target innocent civilians”—instead going after the Pentagon as a military target, “pure and simple,” and World Trade Center employees, whom Churchill deemed “civilians of a sort.”

“But innocent? Gimme a break,” he wrote. “They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire.”

Further on, Churchill compared Trade Center workers to “little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers”—a reference to the Third Reich officer known for orchestrating the executions of Jews in Nazi Germany.

Hamilton College has since canceled its “Limits of Dissent” panel discussion, slated for yesterday, citing security reasons in the wake of death threats made against college officials. Students at CU have protested, both for and against their professor, throughout the week. And Churchill, who’s also received threats, remains a tenured faculty member of CU’s ethnic studies department.

This has infuriated many of Colorado’s lawmakers, who interrupted busy agendas dealing with the state’s fiscal crisis this week to pen letters and pass resolutions.

The same day as the governor’s press conference, the House unanimously passed a resolution calling the CU professor’s paper “deplorable” and not in any way reflecting “the values of the people of the State of Colorado.”

The resolution also extended the General Assembly’s “heartfelt sympathy for the victims” and condemned Churchill’s work as “an evil and inflammatory blow against America’s healing process.”

The Senate passed an identical resolution on Thursday, with President Pro Tem Peter Groff submitting the only “no” vote as a protest against feeding the Churchill frenzy and in defense of free speech.

While Owens went so far as to call CU President Elizabeth Hoffman and an unnamed regent on Tuesday night to urge Churchill’s termination, he, like Groff, deemed it a shame that Colorado lawmakers have had to spend time on the subject.

“This is a very difficult issue. I understand academic freedom,” Owens said Wednesday, but “it is not a blank check to do and say anything you want.”

Churchill “and his work justify these terrorists and their actions,” he emphasized. “Above all, he should not be supported with taxpayer dollars.”

But terminating Churchill’s employment also may be a difficult issue, since the CU teacher has tenure. If Hoffman and the board of regents decide to proceed along these lines, they face a rigorous legal process that protects tenured faculty contracts.

The regents met at the Fitzsimons campus Thursday to discuss what action it will take, with what it hoped to be a straightforward meeting turning into a verbal melee after the board told demonstrators it would not hear public comments that day.

Two citizens were escorted from the regent meeting in handcuffs, spurring Gov. Owens to issue another press statement that evening:

“I deplore the behavior displayed by some students at the Regents’ meeting. Their abhorrent behavior underscores the culture of violence that can be spawned by inflammatory speeches and essays, such as those by Mr. Churchill.”

According to Owens, there should be little question as to what to do. On Wednesday, the governor called for an examination of future tenure contracts to prevent further similar, if rare, incidences.

In the interim, Owens said he called on Hoffman to examine whether the board has the “ability to make the legal case that (Churchill’s) not protected by tenure.”

Four Republican state legislators went even further, stating in a letter that “when the higher education supplemental bill arrives on the House floor, we will propose an amendment to reduce the appropriation to the University of Colorado by $100,000, to recover the full cost of Mr. Churchill’s salary.”

Even after resigning his $114,083 position as department chair, Churchill, who has a master’s degree and an honorary doctorate, will still earn $94,292 to teach.

The amendment proposed by Reps. Bill Cadman, Debbie Stafford, Dave Schultheis and Bill Crane will likely not carry any weight, if only because Colorado now uses a higher ed voucher system.

“Should the University wish to continue paying Mr. Churchill,” the representatives’ letter concludes, “we recommend that it seek private sector donors, or tap its private foundation, to do so.”

The House members contend, in a vein similar to Owens, that though Churchill “has every right to express his views,” it should not be done with taxpayer dollars.

“The reason why he’s getting the coverage,” Owens told the press, “is because he’s speaking from the auspices of the University of Colorado.”

Rich, L. E. (2005, February 4). Owens, legislators call for Churchill’s head: CU regent meeting heats up over Ward Churchill affair. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 10.

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